A good thriller by Kenneth Branagh…who is not your typical “thriller” director. Maybe that’s what keeps this one original—Branagh’s unusual take on the suspense genre. Well, whatever it is that makes this film witty and clever, it works. Set in two time periods, it tells two stories that at first seem mostly separate but then begin to reveal some joint characteristics. The 1940s part is shot in black and white and revolves around a couple who appeared to be madly in love…at least until one of them is killed and the other is accused of the murder. The present-day story (shot in color) deals with a woman who is suffering from amnesia and the private investigator trying to help her. How these stories interweave is the original part. Branagh does a great job of holding off on the suspense until just the right time. But, once it kicks in, watch out!

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This film is unlike most of the thrillers I have seen…and I have seen a lot of them. It is smart and clever and unexpected. A little bit of horror mixes with some science, some drama and a lot of strange characters to achieve an edge-of-your-seat film. I guess I should take time here to tell you that some of the plot (especially toward the ending) is a little confused…OK, a lot confused. It involves science and genetics and anything to do with science is pretty much Greek to me (or any other language). At first, I thought I was alone in my confusion but I watched some of the special features on the DVD and the cast and crew were talking about how they didn’t even understand it completely. It’s kind of like the Macguffin in Hitchcock’s films…it doesn’t matter WHAT the thing is, it just matters how exciting it is to find it. What kept me most intrigued with the story were the characters and the quick pacing of the action. It is hard to take a breath during this one…things just keep happening. Sometimes, you don’t know why or how they are happening, but by the time you figure it out, something else is happening. Jean Reno and Vincent Cassel play excellently off each other…Reno is brooding and Cassel is inexperienced and impetuous. The way Cassel involves himself with Reno’s case is clever and not the usual “action” movie cliché of “pairing up” the old master with the young guy that has a lot to learn. If you like action thrillers, this is one you will not want to miss!

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Charade is one fun movie. It’s not the best story in the world and sometimes it seems a little trite. But, when Hepburn and Grant appear on-screen together right at the beginning, the chemistry those two actors exude reels you in and just will not let go. This is the only time they appeared together in a film and they seemed to make the most of it. Grant is never more debonair. Hepburn is never more charming. The screen just lights up when they are together. The plot isn’t that bad — it does have a good trick ending and enough twist and turns on the way to make even the most avid film fanatic woozy. Would this film be the classic it is without Grant and Hepburn? No, but it would still be a decent thriller, especially with director Stanley Donen at the helm. With the two stars, though, it becomes something more than just an ordinary movie. It becomes magic.

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Like its predecessor, The Bourne Supremacy, this film holds up well against the first one of the series, The Bourne Identity. When it comes to series films, regardless of how good or bad the first one is, the subsequent films are usually never good…or at least as good…as the first. By a third film in a series, everything just seems to run out of steam…especially the screenplay. Plot is just mostly ignored…since blowing things up for no reason does not fall under the list of acceptable plotlines. In The Bourne Ultimatum, the script stays taut and clever from start to finish, the action stays consistently tied to the story, and the actors do not behave like they are sleepwalking through their performances. Beginning with the plot thread that left Supremacy up in the air, Ultimatum takes charge right from the beginning. Jason Bourne, this time, remembers more about his past and is determined to find out who is the person responsible for that said past. No, it’s not MUCH of a plot but at least it’s some justification for all of the action and fighting. It’s simple…a simple story…Jason Bourne wants to find out who he is and why he does what he does. Basing all the action on that logic, the movie makes sense. And it is one heck of a wild ride – once again Greengrass and his crew incorporate the camera in the action…make sure to take your Dramamine before this one because when Jason Bourne gets in a brawl, you feel like you’re punching right along with him. If you were a fan of the first two films, this one is a must see!

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Like the 2002 film, The Bourne Identity, this film features amnesiac Jason Bourne on his quest to find the truth out about himself and his possibly nefarious former life. Identity ends with Jason reconnecting with love Marie in an island paradise and Supremacy continues at that spot. From there, it spins you into a world of action, intrigue, and governmental intelligence like nothing ever before. Identity lays the groundwork for the character and plot, but this film answers most, not all, of the questions. It is faster, more intense, and a bit more easy to follow than the first installment. And, there is a car chase in Supremacy (one of the best car chases ever in movies, I feel) that will make you want to walk around for a while since just the sight of automobiles will make you sick. Matt Damon plays Jason Bourne to the hilt, capturing the right level of stamina, compassion, and strength of mind and body. The supporting characters (some carried over from Identity, some new) round out the film by filling in some of the holes about Jason’s past, that, of course, he can’t do since he’s lost his memory. This is one of the best action films in recent years (or decades). It takes the audience on a ride of fun and thrills, all while maintaining a level of plausibility, smarts, and common sense…things VERY few action movies do anymore.

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A fast-paced and engaging thriller set in Russia involving a British historian and the legacy of Joseph Stalin. Based on a fictional novel by Robert Harris, Archangel is based on SOME actual events…there were things that came out in recent years about members of Stalin’s lineage but this story takes more than a little creative license. Moody and dark, the atmosphere of this film helps the suspense along. And Daniel Craig is convincing as the historian on the hunt for the truth. This is a solid thriller that also will appeal to history buffs for the amount of past events in the former Soviet Union have to do with the suspense.

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Writing this on June 3, 2005, the whole world now knows the identity of the mysterious “Deep Throat.” Having that newly revealed information does not diminish the impact of this film. Neither does knowing the outcome of the story. People flocked to see Titanic even though that outcome was also infamously known. The ending…or resolve…of All the President’s Men really is not the reason to watch it. Watch it for everything that leads up to the finale of Nixon as president—the detailed investigative reporting, the danger, the deadlines, the fear of incomplete information…or inaccurate information…the threat of losing jobs and even lives while covering this story. All of those pieces make this film about a very well-known time in American history a taut, fast-paced thriller. Yes…thriller. A movie about Nixon and Watergate and reporters and reporting is a thriller…all with an ending that is not a surprise to viewers? Hard to believe, I know, but nonetheless true. From start to finish, this film is packed with tense, exciting moments…all while making investigative journalism look like the coolest profession outside of taste tester for Ben and Jerry’s. The famous book that this film is based on, by then-Washington Post up-and-coming journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward (who is now an editor at the Post), is dryer and more dense. The movie takes all of the many facts and details of the book and lays them out in a complex, tight structure that makes us sit on the edge of our seats.

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I saw this film for the first time after I watched the 1987 Kevin Costner film No Way Out, which is based on this 1948 Ray Milland movie. Both are good cat-and-mouse thrillers, different enough to be unique movies, but similar in all of the major plot points. The main difference between the two films is that The Big Clock is much less complicated and more focused on the main storyline, making it a tight, fast-paced thriller. Milland plays a magazine editor who somehow finds himself investigating a murder in which he played a major part. He also knows who the real murderer is but cannot reveal this salient piece of information without revealing his part in the crime. If you’re confused by all of that, then don’t see No Way Out which makes this premise even more muddled and twisted by adding a political twist to the story. The Big Clock might always be known as the movie No Way Out is based on, but it stands alone as a solid, thoroughly entertaining mystery.

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Evil Robert Mitchum comes to a small, sleepy town posing as a preacher to try and win over the hearts and bank accounts of unsuspecting ladies, preferably the desperate ones. Enter Shelley Winters with no husband and two kids, making the perfect target. The best thing about this movie is Robert Mitchum. Normally a good actor who is able to play any kind of role (cowboy, cop, soldier, good guy, bad guy, etc.), this movie took the “bad guy” role to new heights. Here his devilish acts focus around children. Even with a subject matter that can be very touchy, Mitchum gives this role his all. The end result is one of the creepiest, meanest and most ruthless characters in American cinema.

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Hitchcockian, according to Wikipedia, is “a general term used to describe film styles and themes similar to those of Alfred Hitchcock’s films.” Being a Hitchcock fan, this term is like nails on a chalkboard for me…when misused. And, trust me, 99% of the time, it is misused. Brian De Palma is often called “Hitchcockian.” Um, excuse me…no, he’s just a copy-cat. Basically, the term has been tossed around by film critics since the Hitchcock era to signify any decent thriller. Hitchcockian has become WAY too over-used. It should not be used for ANY thriller…good or not. Hitchcock had a certain style, a certain elegance to his films that very few (if any) filmmakers have been able to duplicate over the years. Les Diaboliques is Hitchcockian. First of all, it was made in 1955, when Hitchcock was still alive and well and avidly working (the 1950s was probably his best and most accomplished decade). The story of Les Diaboliques is about two women (the wife and the mistress) who kill a man, only the have the dead body turn up missing. There are certain key differences between this film and Hitchcock’s work, of course, such as Les Diaboliques is devoid of the usual Hitchcock humor. But, on the whole, this is a great thriller…so Hitchcockian that the Master himself felt a little jealous of French director Henri-Georges Clouzot…maybe not jealous per se, but let’s just say Les Diaboliques was such a good thriller that Hitchcock felt some pressure. Do I think Hitch broke a sweat? Well, considering that he was and always will be the one and only Master of Suspense, I think he had very little to worry about.

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